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Richardson divides the history of social selection into two basic moments: the ethic of custom and the phase of morality. The first establishes the conditions for the possibility of social selection with respect to the necessary meta-habits and the evaluation of individual behavior with respect to the integrity of the herd. The second phase marks the psychological internalization of the herd instinct in terms of conscious intentions.

The ethic of custom addresses the process of social cohesion whereby the herd establishes the necessary conditions for constituting a group identity. Richardson details three meta-habits constituting the transcendental conditions for establishing the identity of the social group, and thereby an ethic of custom. These meta-habits are memory, consciousness, and language. Each of these new epistemic powers marks significant steps in the individual’s identification with the group as well as providing new possibilities for regulating the individual in view of the group’s interests. Richardson writes, “These factors—memory, consciousness, and language—transform the character of ‘values.’ They allow a behavioral disposition to ‘aim’ at its goals in new ways: foresightedly, self-consciously, and linguistically” (91).

With the establishment of an ethic of custom, the role of memory, self-consciousness, and language becomes intensified and more deeply incorporated in the individual. In the first phase, memory essentially concerned rule following, whereas the moralization of memory concerns a sense of a fundamental indebtedness. Self-consciousness initially facilitated imitation by allowing for communication, comparison, and sharing, but within the phase of morality, consciousness becomes transmuted into bad conscience and a radical inward turning against the self. Similarly, language supported communication and social conformity, but after becoming moralized, language allows for ideological frameworks re-describing the self vis-à-vis metaphysical notions of sin and evil.

In the section on “Superhuman Values,” Richardson tackles Nietzsche’s notion of freedom in terms of self-selection. On the basis of the epistemic powers of memory, consciousness, and language, the self-creation of values supporting one’s individual interests, rather than the interests of the herd, becomes a possibility for the first time—albeit a possibility that is rarely or perhaps yet to be realized. Richardson proposes that Nietzsche’s description of this new form of valuing as “superhuman” is apt, because it represents a radically new structure of value selection and thus a new stage in evolutionary history. He then articulates two “tasks” involved in overcoming our breeding: insight and incorporation.

Insight represents a transcendence of false consciousness or the belief that we already “choose” our own values. This insight is achieved through the violence of honesty, which attempts to gain a new critical distance from the herd morality. The labor of Nietzsche’s genealogies exemplifies this effort at achieving distance. By coming to understand how the values we already embody have emerged with respect to the preservation and enhancement of the group, we gain insight into our own sickness: “Valuing freely, as self selecting one’s values, is precisely to value in the light of an understanding of why one values” (107). However, since we are the evolutionary result of herd morality, insight is not a sufficient condition for realizing freedom. The more difficult task is to “incorporate” new drives and practices, i.e., a new psychology, a new health. Honesty leads to insight about the origin of values in the herd, while developing new habits, practices, and dispositions mark an effort at embodying these insights.

In the last sections of the chapter, Richardson addresses the tension between Nietzsche’s view about the perspectival nature of all values and Nietzsche’s insistence on the ranking of values. Richardson holds that Nietzsche’s insistence on perspectivism is a consequence of his naturalized explanation of the origin of value, whereas his emphatic ranking of values, which would seem to negate his perspectivism, stems from his genealogical and bodily relation to value. His genealogical relation offers new insight into value and entails the rejection of objectivity and universality qua value. Objectivity and universality concern a metaphysical form of valuation rather than a genealogical-biological form of valuation, which is to say that they “belong to a kind of valuing—a kind Nietzsche aspires to overcome” (127). At the same time, Nietzsche’s genealogical approach opens up a counter form of valuing, i.e., freedom, as a new stance qua value creation. Against objectivity and universality, this alternative mode of valuing embraces the assertion of the individual rather than the effacement of the individual. Most of Nietzsche’s ranking of values is rooted in a correlative ranking of psychological “types” and their respective style of valuing. Closely connected to his rejection of objectivity and universality, Nietzsche relies on his bodily relation to value, rather than on his socio-cultural relation to value. By genealogically tracing the meaning of many values back to sociality and the herd instinct, Nietzsche turns to the pre-social biological drives of the body, which he takes to be older, more developed, and therefore more trustworthy. The body represents the only critical position outside of the herd, because it remains in deep contact with a history of drives stretching back beyond their “domestication” and exaptation by the herd. At the same time, however, Richardson rightly points out that Nietzsche is not promoting an anachronistic return to this earlier drives, but is interested in exapting these old drives such that they serve the freedom of the individual.

Chapter 3 – “Ethics-Politics”

Richardson conceptually divides the third chapter into two parts. The first concerns ethics, “how [Nietzsche] means to feel and act toward (particular) other people,” while the second examines politics, “what [Nietzsche] wants society to be like (how he wants it to be structured or organized)” (133). Under the rubric of ethics, Richardson looks at Nietzsche’s endorsement of the virtues of hardness (Härte) and selfishness (Selbstsucht) against the herd morality of pity (Mitleid) and altruism (Altruismus). With respect to politics, he examines Nietzsche’s valuing of rank order (Rangordnung) and his claims about breeding (Züchten), which stand in sharp opposition to the traditional democratic virtue of equality (Gleichheit) and the project of civilizing (Civilisiren).

Roughly speaking, the first half of the chapter deals with Nietzsche’s critical stance. This critique includes Nietzsche’s rejection of the Social Darwinists and their corresponding faith in the concept of progress. Whereas someone like Spencer recognizes the value of egoism within natural selection, Nietzsche criticizes the Social Darwinists for conflating egoism and selfishness, as well as for believing that such a coherent ego can then evolve towards the “higher virtues” of altruism and pity. The Social Darwinists naively take the ego as the basic unit of selfishness, whereas Nietzsche sees the drives as primary. Rather than a singular, coherent selfishness, Nietzsche holds that individual drives compete for their own satisfaction against each other and against the drives of others. Richardson notes that Nietzsche agrees with much of Spencer’s account, but that he sees Spencer’s faith in social progress towards altruism as rooted in the herd instinct and not in the actual workings of natural selection. The difference that Richardson marks between Spencer and Nietzsche rests in the fact that although both thinkers see the social context as a central in the emergence of pity and altruism, Spencer accounts for this emergence via a theory of natural selection while Nietzsche argues for this emergence via a theory of social selection. The difference in Nietzsche’s position is that social design is more mimetic than genetic: “dispositions are transmitted not ‘in the blood’ (as he puts it) but by imitation” (157). In other words, Nietzsche introduces social norms into the logic of social design such that it is not only reproductive success that selects specific behavioral responses but mimetic success, i.e., how “habit forming” these practices are, becomes a factor in their selection.

Another aspect of this critique addresses the problem of evolution as necessarily progressive. Nietzsche balks at the Hegelian scent of the Social Darwinists, who see evolution as an inexorable movement of progress. In contradistinction, Nietzsche holds a more deflated view on progress, which can allow for some minimal conception of advance, thereby making conceptual room for his positive ethical and political projects. Nietzsche’s positive position vis-à-vis ethics and politics is picked up in the latter half of the chapter, particularly in sections five and six, which primarily addresses how his “reevaluation of values” represents a way of exapting the drives and values defining the herd morality.

One of the starting points for understanding Nietzsche’s polemics against pity and altruism, as well as against equality and civilization, is to appreciate the strategic force of his rhetorical attacks. Like Diogenes, Nietzsche reveals the grip that social norms have on us by offending and provoking us. Richardson argues that his polemics are a kind of jarring performance intended to incite a deep reflection: “He wants us to feel strongly that we can’t think that way…and then to ask ourselves, what restrains us, exactly?” (174). One of his criticisms of Socrates was precisely that mere dialectic is simply too easy to expunge. In short, Nietzsche’s polemics are meant to get our attention rather than to convince us.

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